Billy Connolly

Active - 1975 - 2016  |   Born - Nov 24, 1942 in Anderston, Glasgow, Scotland  |   Genres - Comedy, Drama, Children's/Family

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Biography by Sandra Brennan

Multi-talented Billy Connolly is a world-famous comic, an actor on stage, screen, and television, a playwright, and a folk musician. Connolly was born on the kitchen floor of a Glasgow tenement in 1942. During the war, his father William joined the Royal Air Force and due to the stress of separation, his marriage to Connolly's mother disintegrated, leaving William in charge of raising Connolly and his little sister, Flo. He in turn sent the children to live with his two sisters, which made for a difficult home life as they resented their new responsibilities. At age 15, Connolly left school and worked as a delivery boy at a bookstore and then a bakery until he was old enough to work in the shipyards. In 1960, Connolly began a five-year welding apprenticeship. He left in the early '60s to join the Parachute regiment of the Territorial Army and during his stint completed 17 parachute jumps. After leaving the military, he finished his welding apprenticeship and took a job constructing an oil rig in Biafra, Nigeria. The work was unpleasant and eventually he returned to Glasgow.

An episode of The Beverly Hillbillies inspired Connolly to buy a banjo and, following experience in other folky bands, founded the Humblebums with guitarist Tam Harvey. They were later joined by pop singer Gerry Rafferty. Their music, coupled with Connolly's joke-telling between songs, led to considerable popularity, and the Humblebums enjoyed the wild life of touring, partying, and doing everything excessively. Due to his growing tendency to dominate their concerts with comedy, he and Rafferty had a falling out and the group disbanded in 1971 while they were in London. Connolly stayed and worked on his comedy career. By 1975, he had become a roaring success and was touring like a madman. In 1977, he wrote his first play, the unsuccessful An' Me Wi' A Bad Leg, Tae. Actually, none of his subsequent plays were as successful as his irreverent and sometimes coarse standup routines.

In 1979, Connolly made his film debut in Absolution, a drama starring Richard Burton. By the 1980s, Connolly had become a superstar in the U.K. and was having trouble with privacy issues, drinking, and exhaustion. He was involved in a bitter divorce/custody battle with his first wife, and his girlfriend Pamela Stephensen was pregnant. His divorce was granted in 1985 and he received custody of his two children. In the late '80s, Stephenson was working on Saturday Night Live in New York; Connolly periodically guested on the show and on David Letterman. He also did an HBO special with Whoopie Goldberg. In 1989, Connolly starred opposite Liam Neeson in The Big Man, married Stephenson, and replaced Howard Hesseman in the American sitcom Head of the Class. He proved successful and Warners signed a two-year contract with him. But the series was canceled and so Connolly was hired to portray the same character in a new sitcom, Billy, which was based on the film Green Card. He and his family decided to remain in the U.S.; shortly after settling in, the series was canceled. He made a cameo appearance in Indecent Proposal in 1992 and the following year returned to Glasgow to appear in Down Among the Big Boys. Since then he has become more involved with BBC television, notably in a fascinating tour of Scotland that resulted in his winning a Scottish BAFTA award. He also won a Best Arts Programme award for the BBC production The Bigger Picture and a Best Drama award for Down Among the Big Boys. Connolly continued his U.S. film career and even occasionally made guest appearances on U.S. television as he did in the short-lived 1996-1997 sitcom Pearl.

Connolly received the best reviews for any of his dramatic work playing opposite Judi Dench in the engaging drama Mrs. Brown. He continued to balance a respected career as a stand-up comic with work in small films such as Beverly Hills Ninja, The Boondock Saints, Who Is Cletus Trout, and An Everlasting Piece. He scored a dramatic role in a big American film with his appearance in The Last Samurai opposite Tom Cruise, and was one of the many funny people who contributed to The Aristocrats. In 2006 Connolly kept the laughs coming opposite Jim Carrey in the highly stylized Brad Siberling comedy Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, and an appearance as a vile lord with lofty designs for the future in Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties. A vocal performance as a rogue squirrel in the computer animated adventure Open Season marked the first time Connolly had returned to the world of animation since the 1995 Disney musical Pocohontas. Connolly would continue to remain an active force in entertainment for years to come, appearing in movies like the comedy-horror Fido, and the fantasy adventure film Gulliver's Travels.

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  • Dropped out of school at 15.
  • Became a welder after a five-year apprenticeship and did a brief tour building an oil rig off the coast of Nigeria.
  • Nickname is "The Big Yin."
  • Formed a folk band in 1965 called the Humblebums; he played the banjo.
  • In 1975, had a No. 1 song in the UK called "D.I.V.O.R.C.E."
  • Received an honorary doctorate from the University of Glasgow in 2001.
  • Longtime supporter of the Glasgow Celtic Football Club.
  • Was made a commander of the British Empire in 2003; was elevated to a knight in 2017.
  • Broke a rib and got a gash on his leg when he crashed his motorized trike while filming the 2011 documentary series Route 66.
  • Started sketching in 2007, and had his first gallery show of his pen and ink drawings in March 2012.